Puli is just a shoddy transcription of the regular Vijay movie template into the medieval canvas, minus the solid masala moments; with the fantasy element coming off as a real lame excuse to dish out endless mediocrity…
writes Mani Prabhu
Puli begins, in true Chimbu Deven style, with an interesting animated anecdote about a mysterious warrior clan branching out to many districts in medieval India and enslaving the native inhabitants. We sit up in anticipation. Someone has actually thought up a not-so-bad premise for a star movie. But soon enough, a caricatured commander-in-chief goes on a killing rampage on all people who question him. This is where we sniff a first dash of banal déjà-vu. Prabhu, playing the wronged step-dad for the zillionth time, further adds to our suspicion. The medieval make-up doesn’t suit him. He neither looks hungry nor poor; just haggard! When he finds a basket with a new born baby and a bird’s egg floating down the river, you need not be Einstein to see that the baby would grow up to be Vijay. But Chimbu Deven wants you to know that it’s not your regular revenge saga. He quickly gets a talking bird hatched out of that egg the next sequence. You sit up again, probably not realizing that it would be the last time you make that effort for the next one sixty minutes. By the end of the second act, you are left wondering how much better it would have been if it was just your regular revenge drama!
Anticipatory tension – the one screenplay element that holds up such fantasy adventures- is nowhere to be felt in Puli. Just like the talking bird, which never takes the pains to crack at least a bad joke till the end, almost everything in Puli is appallingly flat. Not a single obstacle in the protagonist’s journey is staged tense or funny enough to keep us invested in the happenings. When we first see the Lilliputs, we expect at least a fraction of the fun of Gullivar’s Travels. But what we get instead, is Shruti Haasan in raunchy costumes shaking a leg with the Lilliputians! Why, Chimbu, why? A one-eyed giant does a temple run on a bridge, but is soon silenced when he looks up at the eyes of the protagonist. Enough already! By now, you are either thinking of ways to look away or just submit yourself to the masochism, realizing the futility of it all. But relief is not in near sight. In fact, it’s about to get more frustrating!
The evil queen (played flamboyantly by Sridevi) is proof of the distance the film has travelled from Chimbu Deven’s vision on paper to being the joke on screen. If you are expecting a Charlise Theron from Snow White or an Angelina Jolie from Maleficient, what you get are loads of unintentional humour, every single time Sridevi chooses to unleash her magical powers! Earlier, we expect the combat with the horrifying animal to at least provide some momentary respite. But the creature plays sumo with the protagonist within a shady bush, and comes out wounded for life. For the love of God, what are we being subjected to! Knowing Chimbu’s urge to pay incessant tributes to Indiana Jones, the sequence where the protagonist crosses the bridge-less gorge, comes across as the last straw. What about the atmospheric anxiety? What about the emotional stakes? Where is the build up to the danger? If you can just throw a stone into a trench and build a stone bridge, what’s the need for heroes…. Leave alone superstars!
And this is where Chimbu Deven falters. Unlike his earlier attempt Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam which was a decent spoof of the genre, he seems to have problems making up his mind on what he wants Puli to be – a parody, a comical adventure, a masala movie, or a full-fledged fantasy thriller? The Lilliputs named as alpha, beta and gamma, show us glimpses of his knack for offbeat humour and tasteful gags. But it ends there. He sloppily puts in bits and pieces of his impressions about a star-studded fantasy movie and ends up serving a disastrous blend. The suspension of disbelief, which is like the genre staple, goes for a complete toss throughout the movie. The writing doesn’t strike a chord at any moment, never letting us empathize with the characters on screen. So we are left staring blankly at the emotional scenes. When a main character is ruthlessly murdered by the warriors, we are supposed to root for the son. When the biological dad is projected as the messiah in the back-story, we are supposed to clap. These cinematic moments are meant to hit us hard, tugging at our primal feelings. But they don’t. They aren’t touching. They aren’t inciting. They are all just flat – like the rest of the film. We hardly feel anything other than a sense of horrifying vapidity, and an unshakeable desire to directly skip to the climax.